Enron

Definition

Theater

  • Lucy Prebble's dazzling documentary drama about the scandalous collapse of the US energy company Enron. Widely considered one of modern capitalism's great success stories, Enron suddenly filed for bankruptcy in 2001 with debts of some $60 billion - most of which had been rendered invisible by fraudulent accounting. Leading figures in the company, including CEO Jeffrey Skilling, received long gaol sentences for fraud and conspiracy.

    Despite its sometimes forbidding subject matter - the play is much concerned with the arcana of off-balance-sheet accounting - Enron thrilled the critics when first seen at the Chichester Festival in August 2009 and went on to enjoy a sold-out run in the West End. This owed much to the brilliantly inventive direction of Headlong Theatre's Rupert Goold, who developed the show in collaboration with Prebble (1981 - ). Enron's depiction of crazed greed and hubris in the corporate world also caught the public mood in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008 - 09.

    The play combines documentary with expressionist and Brechtian elements, using bold visual metaphors to explain the recondite financial practices involved. Notably, the shadow companies in which Enron's debts were hidden appear as 'raptors', dinosaur-headed creatures literally eating dollar bills. Similarly, the Lehman Brothers appear as Siamese twins crammed into one business suit and a group of market analysts perform as a close-harmony quartet. A constantly spooling ticker tape shows the rise and fall of Enron's share price.

    Samuel West gave a bravura performance as Skilling, charting his progress from geekish ideas man to swaggering tycoon and final, pathetic crack-up. Tim Pigott-Smith played Ken Lay, the company's avuncular golf-loving founder, and Tom Goodman-Hill was Andy Fastow, the financial whiz-kid responsible for hiding the company's debts.

    Following its triumph at Chichester, Enron transferred to the Royal Court in London and subsequently to the Noël Coward Theatre. A Broadway production opened in April 2010 but proved notably unsuccessful, closing after 15 performances.

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